The narcissism is staggering. The infantile posturing simply terrifying to witness. These are the people we have sent out into the world to report on it. Confused, lost, and reduced to simply making pictures that sell, for stories that are edited thousands of miles away, it is perhaps unsurprising to see that not a single person in this list of ‘luminaries’ has anything to say about any of the communities, and conflicts they covered. These series of articles – and we see them every few weeks – perpetuate a false understanding and a false ideal. And these photographers are all willing participants in this game.
It reminded me of something that Edward Said once pointed out, and that I have quoted on my blog before:
…the plain reportorial style coerces history, process, knowledge itself into mere events being observed. Out of this style has grown the eye-witness, seemingly opinion-less politics – along with its strength and weakness – of contemporary Western journalism. When they are on the rampage, you show Asiatic and African mobs rampaging; an obviously disturbing scene presented by an obviously concerned reporter who is beyond Left piety or right-wing cant. But are such events events only when they are show through the eyes of the decent reporter? Must we inevitably forget the complex reality that produced the event just so that we can experience concern at mob violence? Is there to be no remarking of the power that put the reporter or analyst there in the first place and made it possible to represent the world as a function of comfortable concern? Is it not intrinsically the case that such a style is far more insidiously unfair, so much more subtly dissembling of its affiliations with power, than any avowedly political rhetoric?”
Edward Said on George Orwell, “Tourism Among The Dogs”, Reflections On Exile, Page 97
No, there is to be no examination of the power that places these voices there amongst ‘the other’. It is this depiction of the ‘war photographer’ that creates the insidiously unfair, dissembling approach. It is these sorts of interviews, and these edited, censored, elided responses that continue to confuse, hypnotise and bamboozle the reader. The cult of the ‘war photographer’ is recreated every few months and the ‘war’ photographers (does anyone really want to be called this anymore?) themselves have become blind to the ropes that own them, control them, and make them dance. Seduced by the spotlight, they are puppets repeating words and cliches they have heard elsewhere or earlier. Few can change the discourse, alter the nature of the discussion, and perhaps most powerfully, challenge the nature, structure and presumptions that underpin the questions they are asked. The games continue, and the famous, the awarded, the acquiescent and willing, are celebrated with celebrity and fame.
It is a fools gallery. I am sad to say even if some are friends. It is a dangerous confusion that allows them to believe that they are who they are. We are today in a world that does not need physical courage, but moral and intellectual courage. The moral and intellectual courage to question empire, and our place in it. The intellectual courage to see how our images, our stories, enable war, justify killings, manufacture demons and grease a machinery of violence, repression and control of the lesser nations and their people. This is not war photography, but war propaganda – a carefully sliced and diced depiction of a tiny reality that erases thought, awareness, accountability, history, responsibility, interests and calculations, and reduces everything to merely action, reaction, smoke and mirrors. It is reality reduced to a comic. It is complexity reduced to an aphorism. It is courage reduced to bravado.
The emptiness of their discourse, their rhetoric and their posturing is perhaps best captured by Adam Ferguson’s statement that:
When I won a World Press award for this photograph, I felt sad. People were congratulating me and there was a celebration over this intense tragedy that I had captured. I reconciled it by deciding that more people see a story when a photographer’s work is decorated.
A staggering admission though he may not have realised it. The award was won. The celebrations attended. The career moved ahead. And a silence maintained. What was this intense tragedy? Who was responsible? What role did our nations have in its unfolding? Was there nothing to be said? Was there no protest to be launched? Were there no trinkets that were being handed out to be returned in defiance and in a last-ditch effort to protect ones integrity, individuality, and independence? Was there nothing more than a lame excuse that more people ‘saw’ it – whatever that may mean. As if ‘seeing’ has any value whatsoever. As if ‘seeing’ as we drive by an accident was an act worthy of its effort. Seeing – that effortless act that today cannot differentiate between an advertisement, an Instagram thrill, or a tragic war crime. That act without thought. That glance. That ‘Like’. They saw. We said nothing. Move on. There is nothing to think about here.